Thursday, August 30, 2007

Navigating the sports universe


Wow. I take a weekend off from the world of sports, and when I return... I am overwhelmed. I ask myself, What should I write about?

The flailing Tigers? The surging Padres? The never-say-die Phillies? The U.S. Open? Big Ten football? Michael Vick? Fantasy football? Yi Jianlian? Team USA? The WNBA playoffs?

The list goes on and on right now. The sports world is blowing up. So I came to the revelation that there's only one thing for me to do — cover it all in one bloated column.

Here goes...

Are the Tigers out of it?
As I sat watching the Tigers wallop the Yankees 16-0 Monday night, all I could think was, And now they'll probably lose to Kansas City tomorrow.

Not only did the Tigers lose to the Royals on Tuesday, they also fell to them Wednesday, getting shut out 5-0. Combine those losses with two Indians' wins, and the Tigers find themselves a whopping four and a half games behind Cleveland in the AL Central and three out in the wild card behind the Mariners and Yankees.

And no signs point to a turnaround. Detroit's starting pitching remains frustratingly inconsistent and there are too many holes in its lineup.

During baseball season, things can obviously turn around very quickly, so I'm not counting the Tigers out. But they better find a recovery medicine soon, or they'll be hitting the links come October.

The impact of a single series
Just a few days ago the Mets held a comfortable six-game lead over the Phillies in the NL Central. The Diamondbacks maintained a three-game cushion on the Padres in the NL West. The Yankees were a whopping eight games out in the AL East. And the Mariners were a mere two games behind the Angels in the AL West.

Scratch all that. It's nonsense now. The past three days showed what kind of impact a single series can have on a pennant race.

The Phillies, heading into Thursday's series finale, trailed the Mets by just three games — reviving hope in the City of Brotherly Love.

That cushion for the Diamondbacks? Well, it's gone now. They're tied with the Padres, who have all the momentum.

The Red Sox aren't feeling the New York Heat yet, but entering Thursday's matinee at Yankee Stadium, their lead was down to six games.

Meanwhile, the Mariners basically lost the division to the Angles with three consecutive losses, falling a seemingly immune five games behind.

But, then again, the teams play four more games in late September, when the exact opposite could happen.

Just goes to show how quickly momentum can shift in a competitive (or previously non-competitive) division race.

Don't forget about the tennis
With everything else going on, it's easy to forget that there's a big tennis tournament going on — namely, the U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam of the year.

But it'd be a shame to skip paying attention to the tournament simply because of the beginning of football season (the U.S. Open's men's final will be on the same Sunday as Week 1 of the NFL season). There should be plenty of drama on both sides of the tournament's draw.

On the women's side, the Williams sisters no longer can be listed as underdogs after taking two of the year's first three Grand Slams (Serena won the Australian Open and Venus won Wimbledon). It will be interesting to see how they respond to the higher expectations in Flushing Meadows.

Also, where has Maria Sharapova been? Since getting clobbered by Serena Williams in the finals in Melbourne, Sharapova has kind of gone underground, losing in the semifinals of the French Open and bowing out in the fourth round to Venus Williams at Wimbledon. Last year's U.S. Open champion has some proving to do.

On the men's side the big question is, Will it be Federer-Nadal III? I'm sure that's what everybody's hoping for after the epic five-set match in the Wimbledon finals, but Nadal has never proven himself at the U.S. Open, where he has never reached the finals.

While I'd bet my saving on Federer making the finals, I wouldn't bet a fifth of my savings on Nadal doing likewise.

Then again, after looking at Nadal's half of the bracket, I don't see a player who I'd take over the Spaniard (Andy Roddick is in Federer's half).

All we can do is let the drama play out...

Are you ready for some college football?
I can't believe the college football season kicks off tonight, as in Thursday night, August 30. It has come so quickly. Before I can catch my breath, there will be a thrilling upset, a barnburner out west and a matchup of top-10 SEC teams.

Yes, things will get going very quickly, and up here in Michigan all the talk is about the Wolverines, who are thinking national championship.

If you can believe this, Michigan has failed to beat Ohio State or win a bowl game the past three years. Surely, the Wolverines seniors — led by the offensive trio of QB Chad Henne, RB Mike Hart and LT Jake Long — don't want a repeat this season.

That is a reason why I wouldn't be surprised if the Wolverines suffer an early hiccup (they've got home games against Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn state in three straight weeks).

Still, I like Michigan to come out on top in the Big Ten. The Wolverines will score a lot of points, and the defense will improve as the season progresses (remind you of a team? How about last year's Ohio State squad?). With that said, here is my predicted order of finish in the Big Ten:

1 - Michigan
2 - Ohio State
3 - Wisconsin
4 - Penn State
5 - Iowa
6 - Purdue
7 - Illinois
8 - Michigan State
9 - Indiana
10 - Minnesota
11 - Northwestern

As for the nation's top squads, everyone's talking about USC — and with good reason — but you just never know this time of year. What if John David Booty gets injured? Obviously, anything can happen.

I think a national title team has to have an experienced, savvy quarterback. You don't see many inexperienced play-callers leading their teams to national titles. Regardless of how good a team's defense is, it's going to be in a close game where the QB's going to have to make big plays. That's why I like the following teams:

USC (Booty)
Texas (Colt McCoy)
West Virginia (Pat White)
Louisville (Brian Brohm)
Michigan (Henne)
Boston College (Matt Ryan)
Hawaii (Colt Brennan)

My national title prediction?

The Mountaineers go undefeated and just barely beat out a number of one-loss teams in the BCS to face the Trojans in January.

Do I have to talk about Vick?
OK, just for a minute.

While Vick's public apology wasn't bad, this is one of those cases where his words really don't mean anything. Only his actions do.

I won't start considering forgiving Michael Vick until he begins putting some money and effort into helping pet shelters, into saving strays' lives. His words ring hollow. Especially when he throws in dozens of "you know?"s in his speech.

No, I don't know, Michael.

The contriteness was a start. Now Vick needs to be proactive.

The impact of a 3-point shooter
As the U.S. romps over unmatched opponents in the FIBA Americas tournament (although it will finally face a test against Argentina Thursday night), I can't help but think that maybe — just maybe — the Americans have finally found a cohesive unit devoid of malignant holes that can win the 2008 Olympics.

My biggest piece of evidence? A guy named Michael Redd.

With the Milwaukee Bucks' starting shooting guard, the Americans have a reliable outside shooter to take the pressure off everyone to try to drive the basket against swarming international defenses. Every time I see a USA highlight, Redd is knocking down an open 3-pointer.

With Redd — not to mention Chauncey "Mr. Big Shot" Billups and Memphis' Mike Miller — America's athletic behemoths finally have some room to roam down low because opponents can't leave him open.

I'm not predicting anything, but this U.S. team is definitely showing great potential.

The game against Argentina will tell us even more.

Signing Yi
The Milwaukee Bucks finally did what I thought they'd never do: sign their first-round draft pick, Yi Jianlian.

All it took was a trip by Bucks' management to China to talk to Yi's parents and treat them to an expansive dinner (or something like that).

Still, I believe Yi has a lot of learning to do to become a top-notch big man in the NBA. He's young. He's inexperienced. He appears soft. He might be the next Darko Milicic, meaning it will take him a few years to get used the NBA's physical style of play.

I'm not sure if he was worth the No. 6 pick in the draft, but at least the Bucks were able to sign him.

A couple months ago it appeared that might not even happen.

Did you know?

With everything that is going on in American sports right now, you may not have even heard this — unless, of course, you are a die-hard Celtics fan. Anyway, to break the news, the Celtics signed former Miami forward James Posey to a two-year contract Monday.

This may not seem like a big signing, except that it is. After unloading just about their entire team for Kevin Garnett, the Celtics were in need of solid role players. Posey is exactly the type of player they needed.

Unselfish offensively. Tough defensively. Can play large chunks of minutes. He'll be a serviceable backup for Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

And maybe he'll get to be part of another Eastern Conference championship team...

All right, I'm out. But before I go, don't forget — it's important to get outside and enjoy the weather these waning days of summer.

Even if it seems like there's a constant barrage of sports events worth watching.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

It's nearing gut-check time for Tigers


Maybe that is what will finally awake the Detroit Tigers out of their August slumber.

A four-hour rain delay followed by a four-and-a-half-hour game. A 3:30 a.m. walkoff home run by Carlos Guillen.

No, you don't see that more than once in a lifetime.

The Tigers have been flailing for over a month now. Their starting pitching has been anything but advertised. Their bullpen has defined "shaky." And their lineup really isn't that scary anymore.

Sill — and I can't believe I'm saying this — after Friday night's eight-and-a-half-hour affair — a 9-6 win in 11 innings over the Yankees — the Tigers find themselves a mere game and a half behind the Central Division leading Indians (mostly because Cleveland has been almost as bad as Detroit of late).

Detroit hasn't won a series since it swept the Twins July 17-19. It hasn't even won back-to-back games in two weeks.

So, yes, Saturday night's game against the Yankees is huge. The marathon victory Friday night won't mean a thing if the Tigers can't wipe the sleep from their eyes and focus clearly enough to win this second game of the four-game set.

No, a loss Saturday night wouldn't mean the end of the season. Heck, losses in the final three games to the Yanks wouldn't diminish all hope, but it sure would tighten the noose. The Tigers need momentum. They need to get the car moving instead of conking out every block. Who knows if Guillen's long ball was the beginning of a change in direction.

It's gonna take a team effort
It is clear, with Joel Zumaya finally back, that the presence of one player isn't going to determine the Tigers' fate. Sure, Zumaya's return was such a big deal that it was featured on the front page of the "Detroit Free Press," but he went on to allow all three runs just two days later in a devastating 3-1 loss to the Indians (if the Tigers could have pulled that game out, they'd be in first place right now).

The same can be said for Gary Sheffield. Yes, the Tigers miss his veteran presence in the lineup right now, but he alone is not going to push the team back into the postseason. Especially if his shoulder continues to bother him.

It's going to take both a team effort from the pitching staff and the batting lineup — starters 1-5, hitters 1-9... all the relief pitchers — to be playing when the leaves change colors. That was evident on Friday when the bullpen didn't allow a run in more than six innings of work. Everyone did their job — even Tigers' fans whipping boy, Jason Grilli.

A big concern for the Tigers has to be Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who simply isn't close to the hitter he used to be. As a veteran at the age of 36, you'd expect Rodriguez to display patience at the plate, however that is far from the case. When he walked Friday night (actually, it was Saturday morning), the radio announcers woke up from their night dreams to talk about how surprising of an occurrence it was. After all, it was just Rodriguez's seventh walk of the year compared to 78 strikeouts. His .289 on-base percentage is even more of a concern.

With Sheffield out, Rodriguez struggling, Brandon Inge even worse, and Cameron Maybin still getting used to the majors, no one can say anymore that the Tigers' lineup is devoid of holes.

But, still, Detroit should have enough offense to get back to the postseason... providing its starting pitching gets its act together.

And that's the big question: What has happened to that rotation? Jeremy Bonderman has struggled. Kenny Rogers is injured. Justin Verlander hasn't been the same since his no-hitter back in June. Nate Robertson has been up and down.

Of late, the Tigers' best starter has been Jair Jurrjens, who gave up a single hit in Detroit's 2-1 win over Cleveland Tuesday night. That's not a good sign. Now is the time for last year's top guys to step up and lead this team. Not Jurrjens, or Andrew Miller, who didn't make it out of the fifth inning Friday night.

Good performances from those two will be bonuses. Bonderman, Verlander, Robertson and Rogers (when he returns) need to start lasting longer into games (at least six innings) and giving up less runs (as simple as that sounds).

Maybe Friday night was a start. Maybe the Tigers will build on the extra-inning, extra-time victory. But, then again, the game didn't exactly showcase the main ingredient the Tigers need to gain momentum — good starting pitching.

I'm sure team members aren't thinking about that, however. At this point in the season, a win's a win — however the Tigers might come upon it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Baseball, really, is all about numbers


I was at a slow-pitch softball tournament Wednesday night, so I wasn't surprised when I saw teams scoring 20-plus runs with ease.

When I walked over to the concession stand TV, however, and noticed that Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers had dropped 30 runs on the Baltimore Orioles, I was in shock.

Thirty runs? I knew ESPN statisticians would have a field day comparing that to various football scores... and Big Ten basketball scores — OK, just kidding (but, really, the Big Ten routinely plays games in the 40s).

But back to my point. It didn't matter that the Rangers (now 56-70 after completing the doubleheader sweep) are a pitiful team that hasn't been in the playoff race since April. No one cared that the game had close to no meaning for either team (the Orioles are a mediocre 58-67 — 17 games behind the Red Sox in the American League East).

Rather, late into the night baseball enthusiasts and historians alike were lauding the modern-day record for runs scored in a game. (The Chicago Colts — now the Cubs — scored 36 runs in 1897).

ESPN's Tim Kurkjian was on the verge of euphoria in describing the Rangers' feat. He was just one of many.

Yes, it was a special night for baseball.

A game that's all about the numbers.

What matters most
We can talk all we want about pennant races and the "intangibles," but nothing will ever take away baseball's moniker as a numbers sport.

How else can you explain the ridiculous coverage Barry Bonds' home run chase received this summer? Or even the attention paid to Chase Utley's hitting streak last year when he was still more than 20 games away from Joe DiMaggio's seemingly unbreakable record.

How else can you make sense of the attention paid to steroid use before these substances were proactively banned by commissioner Bud Selig. It's not like the Cream and the Clear were the reason the Marlins won the 2003 World Series. Rather, the use of such substances was ridiculed because baseball's sluggers (Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Bonds, etc.) allegedly used them to break baseball's hallowed records.

Players like to say the only thing that matters is winning. And to a certain extent, they're right. But you couldn't look at Bonds' huge smile after No. 756 and believe that he would have exchanged breaking Hank Aaron's record for taking the San Francisco Giants back to the playoffs (coincidentally, the Giants — 55-72 — have been in last place of the National League West all season).

It's a numbers game, and always will be a numbers game.

There are so many statistics kept now, I can't even keep track. WHIP (whipped cream?). Not only OBP and SLG, but OPS (Online Packaging Service?).RC27... XBA... somebody get me a ginger ale, because I'm becoming dizzy.

While we recognize records in football and basketball, they don't receive close to the attention they do in America's Pastime. For instance, we know that Bonds' new record is the most hallowed in baseball, but what's the most revered mark in the other major sports?

Maybe you could say Wilt's 100 points in basketball, but even that's not clear cut. And I can't think of a particular football record that's always talked about. Sure, the all-time rushing record got a little attention when Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton's mark, but let's not forget that Barry Sanders didn't even bother sticking around one more season to surpass "Sweetness."

I sure can't imagine Bonds hanging up the uniform 10 home runs shy of Hammering Hank. He probably would have played with one arm if he had to.

In the coming weeks, we'll move the Rangers' amazing feat to the rear of our minds' baseball compartment. We'll do likewise with Brandon Webb's 42-inning scoreless streak and instead focus on the Diamondbacks' improbable run to a division title. Pennant talk will dominate the airwaves.

But don't be naive to think that if another remarkable number is posted, it won't garner great attention.

It will. Whether it happens in April, August or October.

Because baseball — dating back to the days of the Chicago Colts — has always (and will always) be about the numbers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The best comeback medicine for Vick


I don't personally know Michael Vick. Never seen him in person. Never spoken to him. Never shook his hand.

I didn't personally know Eddie Griffin. Yada, yada, yada.

But from far away, it's clear that both men — one alive, but heading to prison; one dead after driving his SUV into a freight train last week — have/had serious problems.

Hopefully the one still alive, Vick, can learn from the mistakes of the deceased one, Griffin.

But it will likely take some help.

Being overly loyal
On Tuesday afternoon, Vick's former teammate, Fred McCrary, came on ESPN Radio and said that Vick is a good guy and that we in the media should stop judging him. Basically, McCrary was showing blind loyalty toward Vick. He was standing up for him when he knows — as does the rest of this country — that what Vick engaged in was downright despicable.

While I'm sure McCrary knows Vick better than most of us in the media "judging him," we are simply basing our opinions of Vick on the facts. He gambled on dogfighting. According to his (former) friends, he helped kill underperforming dogs. That's all we need to judge Vick.

McCrary is doing Vick a disservice by benightedly supporting him and saying he'll be a better man when he comes out of jail. That's nice to think, but the only way Vick's going to become a different person once out of the ringer is if he realizes just how awful his transgressions were and that he needs to make some changes in his lifestyle.

To do that, he needs friends and family members who support him, but who don't make him feel like he's locked up for no reason. He needs people around him who recognize that Vick was a bad person and that he needs to change.

Griffin's lost opportunity
There were people who tried to help Eddie Griffin, the troubled NBA player whom Houston gave up three first-round draft picks to get in the 2001 draft.

Houston Rockets vice president of basketball operations and athletic trainer Keith Jones knew Griffin well and had many conversations with him, including in May. Griffin would tell Jones that he was doing the right things, working out to get back into shape.

But those words were always false, including — tragically — one final time. Jones said that Griffin, who battled alcoholism his entire NBA career, was likely influenced by the wrong people, the type of people who don't sit a struggling person like Griffin down and tell him to get his act together.

"I can't say it shocks me," Jones said in J.A. Adande's column. "It's still really sad and really tragic. And Eddie was a good guy. He had a good heart. He made some bad decisions on a lot of things. I think he had people that were guiding him, that he thought were guiding him, that didn't have his best interests in heart."

Sound a little like Michael Vick? Maybe it's a good thing Vick is being locked up.

Another chance at life
As a dog lover, I doubt I'll ever be able to forgive Michael Vick. But that's just me. There are millions of conciliatory Americans who will open their minds up to Vick when he is released from prison a year or so after serving his sentence. Even if an NFL owner doesn't grant Vick a second chance in the league, I'm sure some other league — maybe the burgeoning Arena Football League — will open its doors to Vick.

He could even become a star once again.

But first he needs to do what Griffin failed to ever accomplish. He needs to admit his problems and his wrongdoings. He needs to recognize that the Michael Vick of the past six or so years was not a good person. He needs to reshape himself.

Whether Vick is able to achieve this is up in the air.

His friends/loved ones can sway the wind toward a successful comeback by giving him tough love rather than blind support.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunday, 8/19/07's main point: Probable sentences don't fit the crimes


Note: This column is written based on the assumption — which is looking more true by the day — that Michael Vick is guilty of dogfighting.

Imagine this scenario, friends...

So an NBA referee pocketed more than $30,000 by giving inside tips on games to friends running an illegal gambling ring.

A bad deed? Yes. (Especially in the NBA's eyes). An irreconcilable sin? No, I don't think so.

During the same time period — in addition to a couple years beforehand — a celebrated NFL quarterback allegedly engaged in a dogfighting ring. According to other members of the ring, who have accepted plea bargains and are prepared to testify against the star QB, he was present when several dogs were electrocuted, hanged and grounded to death because they didn't perform adequately.

You know the story.

So, let me ask, which crime deserves a greater punishment? Put aside your love for dogs and/or the NBA for a moment, and be honest.

Giving inside tips to bettors? Or killing dogs?

Um, I'll take killing dogs for $500, Alex.

It's a simple answer. No ifs, ands or buts.

Except for this "but." One of the criminals faces up to 25 years in prison in addition to as much as $500,000 in fines for his actions. The other, whether he admits to the crime through a plea or takes his weak case to trial, isn't likely to face more than a couple years in the can (and could likely cop a plea for no more than a year or so locked up).

In fact, many of the questions being asked this weekend have centered around whether an NFL team will take a chance on Michael Vick in the future? Tim Donaghy's life, meanwhile, has been deemed "over" by many in the media.

Now I know life's not fair, but this borders on ludicrous.

Yes, Donaghy's admitted actions are reprehensible. It will take some genius marketing, not to mention star talent, for NBA commissioner David Stern to keep the casual NBA fan watching this season. But Donaghy didn't physically hurt anyone with his actions. That's why 25 years is a tad above ridiculous.

Vick, on the other hand, apparently showed no restraint in not only creating fighters out of innocuous dogs, but killing the live creatures when they didn't win him gambling money. So not only was he gambling, but he killed too.

Hmm... I'd say at least 10 years. Maybe more.

But it appears that a decade from now, Vick is more likely to be playing in the NFL than serving any kind of sentence. Donaghy, though, will probably be locked up, mourning those tips he gave his buddies, which only landed him $5,000 apiece (when his tip was right).

The NBA can be resurrected. Stern is a very smart businessman. He can undoubtedly bring the league back from this public relations disaster, especially considering the young talent that is entering the NBA each season. Donaghy's crime isn't the end for one of the top three major sports leagues in America.

The dead dogs cannot be resurrected, however. They are dead. Forever.

That right there should be enough for Vick — plea bargain or not — to serve a longer sentence than Donaghy.

But that's not the case, and as we all know...

Life ain't fair.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Saturday, 8/18/07's main point: Sympathizing with Selig


Some things in life are easy.

Sleeping, eating and reading the sports section top the list for me. Another thing that's been easy to do the past few years is criticize Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

He ignored the evidence of steroids during the 1998 Home Run Chase and while Barry Bonds was at his peak. He took too long to implement a stringent policy regarding 'roids. Dissing the commissioner doesn't take a high school diploma.

This season has been perhaps the toughest for Selig. He had to constantly answer questions regarding whether he'd be on hand to witness Barry Bonds' record-breaking home runs. And just this week he was faced with the issue of whether to punish Jason Giambi, who essentially admitted to using steroids in an interview with "USA Today" earlier this season, saying, "I was wrong for doing that stuff."

While Selig has taken a lot of heat for not disciplining Giambi — who happened to hit two home runs against the Tigers Friday night — he made the right (if not popular decision).

Well, maybe I should amend that statement. There was no "right" choice, rather there was a choice that would be best for the future of baseball. Selig went in that direction.

By letting Giambi continue to play after his cooperation with George Mitchell's investigation (in addition, Selig made sure to add, to his charitable efforts), Selig sent the message to previous steroids users that if they come cleans about their past misgivings and become positive spokesmen for the league, they won't be punished.

Maybe — just maybe — this result will be enough to convince others to follow Giambi's lead. No, I don't expect Bonds to admit to any wrongdoings during this lifetime (we'll see 2-year-olds injecting before that happens), but nobody is less contrite than the new home run leader. There are other players who might realize the opportunity Selig is presenting them through this example.

Think, for a second, what the reaction among players would have been had Selig sharply disciplined Giambi. A high-profile player comes out, pretty much admits his steroids use, decries his actions (not to mention, does a plethora of charity work), and gets a... punishment? No player with any common sense would even think about discussing the "S" word after that type of ruling.

But now, thanks to Selig's decision, there is a chance that the fight against steroids will gain some more high-profile players who no longer are on the juice and admit they were mistaken for taking it in the first place.

And in no way does Selig's action weaken the current steroid policy. Current players who are caught doping will still face the same stiff penalties as before. There's no changing that.

Just like there's no altering the past. Look, we know that the late 1990s and early part of this decade were tainted by sluggers (and probably some big-name pitchers) doping. Any educated baseball guy is aware of this. But there's nothing we can do to change this (we can't make Bonds' head smaller).

All Selig & Company can do is focus on cleaning up the game now. And there's no doubt that getting players such as Giambi to speak out against steroids is a positive in this difficult battle.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday, 8/17/07's main point: Vaughn only attracts attention with lawsuit


If Kia Vaughn thought her reputation was tarnished back in April, she has no idea of the hit it will take now.

She'll be called greedy. She'll be labeled a money-seeking-"victim." And both just might be true.

Vaughn is a junior on the Rutgers women's basketball team. After the Scarlet Knights lost the national championship game to Tennessee in April, members of the team were infamously called "nappy-headed hos" by CBS Radio personality Don Imus.

Now Vaughn, despite not being singled out by Imus, is suing him. And, coincidence or not, she filed the suit on the same day Imus and CBS reached a settlement on his $120 million breach-of-contract lawsuit.

This simply does not make any sense to me. After Imus' comments more than four months ago, there was an outpouring of support for the Scarlet Knights, which was only strengthened by an incredible press conference in which they made themselves out to be extremely intelligent, well-rounded people.

Nobody I know, or listened to, or saw on TV had anything negative to say about Vaughn or other members of the Scarlet Knights. Nobody. They clearly had made Imus look like an idiot while garnering great, positive publicity for their school at the same time.

And while Imus was fired from his post at CBS, the Rutgers players could go back to living their normal lives, right?

Apparently not. Vaughn doesn't want to let the issue slide. In April, team members even said they didn't necessarily want Imus fired. Now, on the day he settles with CBS, Vaughn sues?

The only real reason I can see for this course of action is money. There's a good chance, according to Mississippi College School of Law professor Michael McCann, that this case will be settled out of court, meaning Vaughn will likely be paid a lump sum from Imus.

But will it really be worth it? How will Vaughn be received by her teammates, who have likely tried to put the whole incident in their rear-view mirrors? Now how will the general public look at her?

Before this, I could only applaud the Scarlet Knights for being so classy and handling a difficult situation with grace. But now, I have to question Vaughn and her intentions.

We shouldn't be talking about the Rutgers women's basketball team right now unless we're forecasting its chances of returning to the national championship game. All this Don Imus baloney should be in the past, no longer an issue.

But because of Vaughn, it's not. Because of this lawsuit, Imus' name — the only name that was tarnished back in April — is back in the news for the wrong reason.

And Kia Vaughn will be viewed as more than just a student-athlete this fall on campus.

I hope, for her sake, that she handles the new attention sure to find her with as much grace and maturity as she and her teammates handled Imus' comments four-plus months ago.

Because this time she deserves any backlash she receives.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thursday, 8/16/07's main point: Preseason trash talk?


The idea of preseason games being nothing but a chance for key players to sustain injuries was given a whole new meaning Wednesday thanks to the mouth of Tennessee Titans' linebacker Keith Bulluck.

Bulluck, apparently, is upset that New England — Tennessee's preseason opponent Friday — didn't act more classy after the Patriots' 40-23 win over the Titans in the 2006 regular season finale. He's also still disturbed that Vinny "He must be 50" Testaverde threw a late touchdown pass in that game.

Bulluck is particularly peeved at Pats' wide receiver Reche Caldwell.

"It's only a preseason game, but I think No. 87 (Caldwell) needs to keep his head on a swivel," Bulluck said in the "Tennessean."

Whoa, watch out, Reche!

OK, I don't know Keith Bulluck (and I don't really want to know him), but it appears he's got some anger issues. To let some petty incident from eight months ago affect him now is weak.

And to rip on an old, washed-up quarterback for simply adding a final TD to his resume... C'mon, Keith. You can't be serious?

Now I'm sure whoever's broadcasting this game is pleased with Bulluck's comments. Maybe people will actually watch the useless preseason game to see what the linebacker's course of revenge entails. These comments give life to an otherwise mundane three-hour event.

But, on the other hand (as you might have ascertained), Bulluck's words are ludicrous. There was nothing wrong with being frustrated back in January. The loss, after all, cost the Titans what would have been an improbable playoff berth. It obviously was a very emotional final game of the season.

But since then, flowers have bloomed, Paris Hilton's been arrested and Pacman's attended several strip clubs.

Let it go, Keith. Move on. It's a new season. Your team, led by the indispensable Vince Young, has high expectations. The last thing it needs is for you to incur a ridiculous suspension for delivering an unnecessary hit on Caldwell (or for putting Testaverde in the hospital with a single blow). The Titans don't need another suspended player.

If I'm Titans coach Jeff Fisher, I sit Bulluck down and explain his options to him.

He can either play the game the way it's supposed to be played and not worry about putting Caldwell's head on a swivel. Or he can sit the game out. Plain and simple.

I want to thank you, Keith Bulluck, for giving me something interesting to write about during the drab preseason. But, please, for your own well-being, don't let an event from so long ago make you do something stupid now.

Nobody wants to see good 'ole Vinny in the hospital.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wednesday, 8/15/07's main point: Baseball's pennant races on fire


When, during the middle of my vacation, I heard that Barry Bonds had finally hit a couple home runs, broken Hank Aaron's record, hugged his kid and given an emotional speech, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Not because I was happy for Barry or Bud Selig, who could turn his mind to other issues. No, I was happy because the completion of Bond's chase for the home run record allowed the focus in baseball to be shifted to where it ought to be this time of year: the pennant races.

And what a finish we are in store for. Not a single division has been decided. Anything could happen in all six divisions. I'm not even talking about a crazy comeback, either, like the Astros' late surge a year ago.

The largest lead a division leader owns is Boston's five-game advantage over the Yanks. If you think that's safe, remind yourself of that five-game series between the hated rivals a year ago. (Hint: Yankees swept). These teams play each other six more times. The Yanks are far from dead in this race.

Here's a look at the six races, with uneducated opinions included:


AL Central
Jake's Take: This race is so up in the air, I'm going to base my thinking on a single game — last night's 6-2 win for Detroit over Cleveland. Jeremy Bonderman put together a very solid outing, the bullpen hung tough, and the Tigers got very timely hitting, including a three-run home run from Magglio Ordonez in the 10th inning. I like Detroit's experience over Cleveland's relative youth. I also give the Tigers an advantage in close games, such as last night's. Should be fun to watch.
Prediction: 1, Detroit. 2, Cleveland (2 GB). 3, Minnesota (7 GB).

AL East
Jake's Take: What's interesting about this race is that while everybody's talking about the Yankees putting pressure on the Red Sox, the Sox have been playing great. After a 2-1 comeback win Tuesday night, they're 25 games above .500, the most they've been all season. Plus, their pitching is set, with Jon Lester back in the rotation. Their only worry? Eric Gagne has been awful. The Yanks will cool down a bit, opening the door for the Sox to cruise into October.
Prediction: 1, Boston. 2, New York (6 GB).

AL West
Jake's Take: Who would have thought back in May that the division would be this close? Count me among the doubters. The Mariners, just three games back of the Angels (not to mention tied for the wild card with the Yanks), have surprised just about everybody, and now several pundits are calling them a playoff team. But how? Sure, they have a lights-out bullpen, but their lineup isn't exactly feared and neither are their starting pitchers. I don't see them catching the Angels (especially if can return and become a serviceable starter once again).
Prediction: 1, Los Angeles. 2, Seattle (4 GB).


NL Central
Jake's Take: This race could be downright ugly. Seriously. The Brewers and Cubs, separated by a game and a half, are playing as if they'd rather hit the links come October (Milwaukee is 4-6 and Chicago is 3-7 their last 10 games). By playing so poorly, they've opened the door for the champion Cardinals, who linger just four and a half games out. This could get so hectic, I'm not even ruling out the Astros, who are eight out. The Brewers, who have struggled on the road all season (13 games under .500), have 27 of their final 43 games away from home. They're done. The Cubs are chokers. They're done. The Astros are a little too far out. So that leaves the Cardinals...
Prediction: 1, St. Louis. 2, Chicago (1.5 GB). 3, Milwaukee (3 GB). 4, Houston (6.5 GB).

NL East
Jake's Take: This division isn't going to be quite as hectic as the Central, but there will still be plenty of drama. The Mets have officially invited Philly and HotLanta to the party, and their not rain-checking. The Phillies, with Mr. Second Half, Ryan Howard, are just three games out. The Braves, with Mr. "I'm so happy I'm no longer a Ranger," Mark Teixeira, are three and a half out. All three teams are playing good, but not great, baseball. Atlanta has history on its side (remember the 14 straight division titles?). The Mets have recent success on their side (last year). And the Phillies? Well, they're due, right? Hmm, that sounds too much like a sentence about the Cubs. I'll go with the current leader.
Prediction: 1, New York. 2, Philly (2 GB). 3, Atlanta (3 GB).

NL West
Jake's Take: Believe it or not, this race used to be juicier. But the Dodgers have made the jobs of prognosticators like myself easier by completing tanking, falling six and a half games behind the surprising Diamondbacks. So, for the sake of not overloading this paragraph, let's call the Dodgers done (hit me in October when they win the division). Which leaves us with the D-back, Padres (two back) and Rockies (five back). In other words, the small-market teams of the division. How the D-backs continue to win is beyond me. Their lineup is as threatening as a prairie dog. Without the Big Unit, nobody's scared of their pitching. But they win. Works for me, I guess. The Padres' pitching is much more daunting as is the Rockies' hitting. The statistic-minded analyst would pick one of them. But I'm a moxy guy. I like winners, even if they don't appear on the back of cereal boxes. That's why I'm sticking with the "How do they win?" D-backs.
Prediction: 1, Arizona. 2, San Diego (1.5 GB). 3, Colorado (3.5 GB). 4, Los Angeles (5 GB).

As you can tell, all six races are up in the air right now, waiting to be grabbed — kinda like Barry's No. 756 before that Mets fan snagged it.

And I haven't even discussed the wild card.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Stay tuned...

Sports fans,
I must apologize for the lack of recent writing on this site. I'm currently on vacation in the middle of New Hampshire's White Mountains with very sketchy Internet service, which is why I have not been posting.

Stay tuned, however. I'll be home on Monday, August 13, and I'll be bantering every day from that point on.

Thanks for reading,